John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing (September 13, 1860-July 15, 1948) was a United States soldier and general officer. He was born near Laclede, Missouri and graduated from United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1886; he later joined the tactical staff at West Point in 1897.
In 1895 John J. Pershing took command of the US Army’s 10th Cavalry Regiment, African-American soldiers under white officers, in action against the Plains Indians. Here Pershing gained his nickname “Black Jack”, from the fact that he was willing to lead black soldiers into combat. Pershing was an outspoken advocate of the value of “colored” soldiers in the US military.
During the Spanish-American War, Pershing fought with distinction at Kettle and San Juan hills in Cuba. He subsequently oversaw a series of expeditions against hostile resistance in the Philippines in 1899 during the Philippine-American War, and was stationed as military attaché in Tokyo in 1905. After serving as an observer in the Russo-Japanese War, he was returned to the Philippines as governor of the Moro Province in 1909.
Under the command of General Frederick Funston, Pershing led the 8th Brigade in 1914 on the difficult Punitive Expedition into Mexico in search of the outlaw Pancho Villa. During this time, George S. Patton served as one of Pershing’s aides de camp.
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson named Pershing to command of the American Expeditionary Forces, a post which he retained until 1918; he was responsible for the organization, training, and supply of an inexperienced force that eventually grew to over two million soldiers. On arriving in Europe during World War I, Pershing fought continual political campaigns to keep the AEF from being split up to augment British and French forces. During this time, George C. Marshall served as one of Pershing’s aides de camp.
The AEF’s offensives at Meuse-Argonne and Saint-Mihiel in France were largely responsible for hastening the Allied victory and the German armistice; these successes were largely credited to Pershing, and he became the most celebrated American leader of the war. In recognition of his distinguished service, the U.S. Congress authorized the President to promote Pershing to General of the Armies of the United States, a rank only he held (Lieutenant General George Washington was posthumously promoted to this rank by President Gerald Ford, and is the only officer in American history to outrank Pershing).
There was a movement to make Pershing President of the United States. While he refused to actively campaign for the office, in a newspaper article he said that he “wouldn’t decline to serve” if the people wanted him; this made front page headlines. However Pershing was a Republican Party member, and many Republican Party leaders considered Pershing too closely tied to the policies of Democratic Party President Wilson. The Republican nomination went to Warren G. Harding
“Black Jack” Pershing served as Chief of Staff, United States Army, from 1921 to 1924.
His memoirs, My Experiences in the World War, were awarded the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for history.
In 1940, he was an outspoken advocate of aid for Great Britain during World War II. Although he outranked the newly-minted five-star Generals of the Army created in December 1944, Pershing never wore more than four stars.
John Joseph Pershing is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near the gravesites of the soldiers he commanded in Europe.